Lactic acid in muscles is produced from the metabolism of carbohydrates in the cells. As the muscle cells generate energy from glucose, lactic acid builds up and this may limit training. While some people think lactic acid causes pain, it is actually part of the healing process, which follows training, and clearing of lactic acid from the muscles allows you to train more effectively.
What Is Lactic Acid in Muscles?
Buildup of Lactic Acid in Muscles
We all know that muscles work every time when moving. In order to generate energy, the muscles use carbohydrates in the presence of oxygen in the blood (aerobic metabolism). However, as the muscles work harder during times of extreme exercises, the amount of oxygen needed to use during energy production runs short, and the muscle cells turn to another process called anaerobic metabolism. The product of this process of obtaining energy anaerobically is lactic acid. When the muscle cells continue to work anaerobically, lactic acid can build up in the muscles.
Functions of Lactic Acid in Muscles
- Lactic acid is the preferred form of energy during strenuous activity because it is rapidly absorbed and can be used immediately by the cells in low oxygen states, without increasing insulin levels or stimulating the synthesis of fat.
- Anaerobic metabolism, which results in lactic acid production, helps the body survive during strenuous exercise. During this process, there is a lack of oxygen in the muscles and there is a high demand for energy.
- Normally, ingested carbohydrates are broken down into glucose (a sugar), which the body uses as fuel. Excess glucose is stored in the liver as glycogen, which is later broken down into glucose when the body needs energy. However, during vigorous activities, most glucose molecules bypass the liver and reach your muscles, being converted into pyruvate, which is easily absorbed by the cells. Excess pyruvate ferments into lactic acid, which goes back into the blood and into the liver, to be stored into glycogen. This is important because during endurance activities, such as triathlons or marathons, lactic acid levels increase in the blood but are later stabilized.
Misunderstanding of Lactic Acid in Muscles
- Contrary to what people usually think, lactic acid does not cause you muscles to become sore or to cramp. When your muscles ache a day after a workout, the delayed onset muscle soreness is caused by inflammation and damage to the muscle. Muscle cramps are due to increased stimulation of muscle nerve receptors, which occurs with muscle fatigue.
- Athletes often use hot baths, massage, or relaxation techniques to reduce lactic acid in their muscles and relieve soreness and muscle cramping. Although these techniques help relieve their symptoms, the relief is not because of lactic acid removal, because lactate has been rapidly used for fuel during vigorous exercise.
When lactic acid builds up in the muscles, the pH (level of acidity) can temporarily decrease, causing acidosis, which can lead to pain. To reduce lactic acid in the muscles, you can do these:
Stretch after Exercising
Doing some gentle stretching exercises after vigorous exercise allows your muscles to release and use the lactic acid that has started to accumulate. To do this, stretch the muscles you used in working out and hold for about 30 seconds. You can also stretch your muscles again before bedtime and in the morning after difficult workouts.
Drink Plenty of Water
This will flush out excess lactate and improve your state of hydration. To restore the electrolytes lost during exercise, some experts advise taking sports drinks.
Take Vitamin C
Some physical trainers recommend taking vitamin C as well as potassium to release large amounts of lactic acid from the muscles, thus speeding up muscle repair and recovery.
Alternate Muscle Groups
To reduce lactic acid accumulation in one muscle group, alternate the muscles groups you use to give them a chance to recover.
Keep Working Out
As you work out more often, your muscles adapt to strain and they suffer less from pain due to lactic acid accumulation.
Eat Foods High in Protein
Eating protein-rich foods like flax, nuts, seeds, soy protein, and lean meat helps your muscles to repair, recover, develop, and adapt to lactic acid buildup.
Eat Leafy Vegetables
Eat green, leafy type of vegetables, which are alkaline to sustain muscle growth and at the same time reduce buildup of lactic acid. Vegetables like spinach, kale, and broccoli are alkaline and suitable for reducing lactic acid in muscles.